from the ground up

from the ground up

The Melges 24 has always been one of this site’s favorites.  With no concessions to handicap rules, ultra-light construction, and a big, powerful rig, the 1993-designed Reichel-Pugh boat was so far ahead of its time it’s uncanny.  The rules are a model of control that do exactly what they’re designed to: Providing a class where regular Joes and the best in the world can race fast monohulls in big fleets without spending hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.  No concessions for handicap rules, no owner/driver rules that let rich guys pretend they’re awesome; if you do well in a major M24 event, you’re not just beating the other guy’s wallet or program manager – you’re beating the best keelboat fleet on Earth. 

All this is why we were so depressed to see the huge downturn in United States M24 action that started a few years ago.  The combination of a dismal Annapolis World Championship, a sizeable group of defecting M24 owners frustrated with the difficulty of winning, and a direct marketing assault from smaller, more owner-friendly sportboats like the Viper and Melges 20 beat the M24 down to a shadow of its former self, and we wondered on these pages whether it would ever rise again.

We’re still wondering, but things are sure looking up.  Some decisive action by the US fleet, including pushing the ‘series’ concept that’s so successful in Europe, has brought numbers up to levels not seen since around 2007.  While Key West might be down, the other South Florida regattas are filling the gaps nicely, while Charleston looks like it might get more entries than the Annapolis Worlds got.  The California Cup continues to grow and attract new owners, and most importantly, the new owners in the fleet are significantly younger than before – many of them in their late 20s and early 30s.  These are mostly college standouts that are now working real jobs, and by going in as partners and doing all the transport and prep work themselves, they’re able to swing the moderate cost of an M24 program that culminates with Worlds in windy Corpus Christi this May.

We’re not sure how many boats will show up in Texas – it’s a long, long way from anywhere, and despite the amazing sailing conditions, that may prove too big an obstacle for organizers to get close to the 99 boats Key Largo pulled in 2005.  But whether Corpus is huge or tiny, we’re happy to know that the Melges 24 truck is rolling again, full of youth, girls, and talent.

Oh yeah – in a stroke of genius, the IMCA has scheduled the 2013 Melges 24 Worlds at the San Francisco Yacht Club, just ONE WEEK after the America’s Cup is over.  Smart.